We've all heard it: nobody writes letters anymore, people spend too much time on the phone, too much texting by everyone, etc.  So: some guidance on when you can, when you can't…

Congratulations: When you find out great news and want to reach a close friend to say "you go, girl!" texting or e-mails are a fine interim measure—but follow up with a call or a card when you can.  (Especially if the occasion is momentous—new baby, graduation, landing a dream job, etc.)

Emergency info: this is where texting and e-mail shine.  "Dad has had minor heart attack.  On way to hosp. now.  Will let u know when we see docs.  They are hopeful."  or "bridge to our side of town collapsed.  Do NOT take highway 1—go the long way."  Or even: "Uh-oh—we are at Casa Caribe and they only take CASH.  Can you bring some for us, too?  Will pay u back."

Condolences: If they are sent via e-mail ("Dear ones: Great Aunt Maggie passed away peacefully in her own bed this morning.  Mom and Aunt Lily were with her.  They are OK.  Will be in touch re services) you may respond quickly in kind—but follow up with a phone call as soon as possible.  ("Oh, Rosalyn—we are so sorry.  I'm sure your hands are full.  Will call you in a few hours to see what you need us to do.  Much love.")  And soon after that, a note or letter.

Logistics: "Meeting at Jasper's Grill for drinks at 6; reservations for 8 at 8:30 after the gallery exhibition."


Gossip gets texted all the time (wasn't this why texting was invented?) in all kinds of circumstances.  Here are some where you might consider NOT texting:

During religious services.  Even if you really are feeling pastor this morning.

During funerals, religious or not.  (Really, what's so important that it cannot wait until the dearly departed is honored?)


In a meeting where you're supposed to be paying attention.  Cause it will be obviously you aren't.

When you are supposed to be interacting with others socially—-at the dinner table, in the middle of a conversation, at a party (exception: you can e-mail a group photo to someone absent: "Nazim: Having a great time and missing you much.  Big hugs from all!"


When you're delivering serious news—especially when it's bad news: No one should ever get "This is it; we're finished" or "You're fired" via an e-mail or text.

For happy occasions, especially when you need to reach a lot of people in a short period of time—although the phone is better, texting or e-mailing will do. Especially if you can add a photo of the new baby, the new Mr. & Mrs., the new graduate from kindergarten:

         It's a boy!  Clarence Michael Clearwater Jr, born 1:52 am, 5 May 2009.  8 lbs, 19".  All doing great!


         Just Married! Presenting Mr. & Mrs. Robert Harrington—cheers!

         Here's Nate, now officially a first grader! XOXO

Smart phones are allowing us to do more and more every day, but just because we can, does that mean we should?  Before you text or e-mail, think how you'd feel if you received an important news this way.  (Again, if you're anxious to be told the news, maybe immediate transmission is more important than anything else.)  



Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News, and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday). 


is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).